Lions clinch top seed for NJAC tournament

The College’s women’s basketball team racked up two more wins last week and is only two games away from the playoffs.

The Lions survived a late rally by Rowan University in the last three minutes and 30 seconds of the game to post a 74-71 victory over the Profs and win their 13th consecutive New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) matchup in Packer Hall last Wednesday night.

The score was close for the entire game and came down to the wire. The teams traded leads seven times throughout the first half before the Lions went on a 21-6 run to be up 43-34 at halftime.

After opening the game with back-to-back three-pointers, Rowan ended the half just 3-for-10 from downtown, while the Lions made half of its three-point field goals.

The Lions led by 10 with 13:34 left in the game, but the Profs cut the deficit to just one (60-59) at 6:14 as the Profs put together a 15-6 run, led by senior center Samantha Eskuchen with nine points. After the Lions were able to cushion their lead, the Profs went on another run off three Lions turnovers to get back within one with 36 seconds remaining.

Four consecutive free throws by senior guard Theresa DiMedio and junior forward Erin Frank gave the Lions a 72-68 margin with 18 ticks left on the clock. But again the Profs were ready with an answer: with four seconds left, Eskuchen sunk two free throws to cut the lead down to one (72-71).

Junior guard Alexa Shields finally sealed the win for the Lions with two free throws with three seconds remaining. Profs junior guard Sheemea Carr missed her three-point attempt from half-court with time expiring.

“It was a great win,” senior guard Sofia Ojeda said. “It was one of those games where everyone had to come together and stay focused on what we had to do.”

Shields netted her first career double-double with 17 points, including 13 in the first half, and 10 rebounds.

Frank and junior center Danica Miller each recorded a double-double as well. Frank tallied 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds while Miller chipped in 13 points and a career-best 12 boards.

“I think that we came ready to play, and that is one of the things we have done well this year,” Frank said. “We take every game seriously and don’t overlook anyone.”

McCormack led the Profs with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds, while senior guard Kami Bernardo notched 14 points and eight boards. Eskuchen registered a double-double on 14 points and 11 rebounds off the bench and senior forward Stephanie Finke and Carr each contributed 12 points.

Next on the ticket for the Lions were the Scarlet Raiders of Rutgers University-Newark. The Lions entered the day assured of the NJAC’s top seed, but that did not stop them from taking control in a 61-32 blowout. The Scarlet Raiders fell to 15-8 overall and 7-7 in the conference.

“This game was very important not only because it’s a conference game, but (the Scarlet Raiders) have beaten everyone in the conference but us,” Shields said. “They are one of those teams that can sneak up on you if you don’t play well.”

Junior forward Erin Frank hit seven of eight shots from the floor on her way to game highs of 17 points and nine rebounds.

The day was not a total loss for the Scarlet Raiders, as they clinched the school’s first NJAC Tournament berth when Rutgers University-Camden downed Kean University and Rowan University stopped Ramapo College.

The Lions have secured the top seed in the playoffs, which gives the team home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament.

“It will be very nice to be able to play at home,” Shields said. “I’m not a fan of those vans.”

Despite having first place wrapped up, the Lions are still focusing on their remaining games and hope to improve.

“We are taking one game at a time and not looking ahead,” Frank said. “We are going to continue tightening up our defense and rebounding.”

The College will host Montclair University tonight at 8 p.m. and then travel to Mount St. Mary College for its regular season finale Friday at 6 p.m.